Revisiting Grand Strategy

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 8, No. 5, May 2020

John T. Kuehn, Ph.D.,  Professor of Military History
U.S. Army Command and General Staff College
Fort Leavenworth, Kansas

The General Board of the U.S. Navy meets in 1932 in Washington D.C. This board existed as an advisory body to the Secretary of the Navy from 1900-1950, and was involved in long range strategic planning focused on the maritime security component of U.S. grand strategy. Its members included the Chief of Naval Operations, President of the Naval War College, Commandant of the Marine Corps and head of naval intelligence. Source: Naval Historical Center.

A recent article in Foreign Affairs by Daniel W. Drezner, Ronald R. Krebs, and Randall Schweller hoisted the white flag: “The End of Grand Strategy: America Must Think Small.”   The article implies that an American attempt to develop a grand strategy, or to support the current grand strategy in vogue, are both vain pursuits.

One reaction to prescriptions of this sort, or rather proscriptions, is to examine what the authors mean exactly by “grand strategy,” what is their definition?

Perhaps their definition is so different from other accepted definitions of this concept that there is no need to worry, maybe they are talking about something else.  After all, this author wrote on the topic ten years ago, bemoaning that the problem was rooted in, although not limited to, a general lack of understanding of the meaning of the term, especially by military professionals in the nation’s service and war colleges.   It might be useful to compare my definition with that consigned to the dust bin by the FA authors.

Carl von Clausewitz has written that as military campaigns proceed, the war as a whole replaces the campaign, and the whole country the theater of operations. In other words, grand strategy is “the next stage,” which encompasses the strategic considerations for “the whole country.”

But the authors argue that, “A grand strategy is a road map for how to match means with ends.”

That settles nothing, although I prefer mine to theirs, which could apply at just about any level of conflict, from a platoon fight in Helmand Province to a 40-year Cold War.  So what do the authors think the “wrong” grand strategy — or whatever it is the US executes as policy—might be?  The authors characterize the current American grand strategy as to “…sustain and expand a global order that promoted open markets, open polities, and multilateral institutions.”   These flowery words have been characterized by MIT political scientist Barry Posen as “liberal hegemony.”  Hegemony infers a hegemon, and that hegemon, of course, is supposedly the United States—the actor employing the verbs of this approach. The authors’ real complaint is with that grand strategy—liberal hegemony—and its state of disrepair under the current administration of the United States.

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The Recurring Intellectual Plague of Globalization

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 8, No. 5, May 2020

By William R. Hawkins

A rear view of a businessman as he tries to sort out the mess of geopolitical events. Map source material courtesy of https://images.nasa.gov/ Getty

In the public mind, the outsourcing of jobs to China, which built the conveyer belt that carried Covid-19 from Wuhan to the world, was the fault of soulless transnational corporations. Greedy business tycoons were willing to deal with anyone in the pursuit of profit, regardless of larger consequences (of which the current pandemic is not the most dire). What cannot be overlooked, however, is that these private actors were given moral cover by intellectuals who assured them that they were fulfilling a higher purpose by spreading liberal values and promoting peace in a new era of globalization. As late as 2011, President Barack Obama could tell American and Chinese business leaders, meeting on the edge of his January summit with Chinese President Hu Jintao, that he depended on them to keep good relations between the two powers. This was in the wake of the military confrontations that had dominated the second half of 2010 after a North Korean submarine sank a South Korean warship. Major naval shows of force were conducted by the U.S., Japan, China, and Russia around the volatile peninsula. President Obama thought container ships could calm the waters.

Though the term globalization originated earlier, it became popular in the 1990’s during the post-Cold War euphoria that spawned hopes of a “new world order” devoted to economic development. The ideals of democracy and free enterprise promoted by the victorious United States would envelope the entire world and set humanity on a progressive course. The collapse of the Soviet Union and a wave of economic reforms in China seemed to confirm that the values of the West were becoming universal. The threat of large-scale conflict was no more. Yet, these sentiments were not new. They were rooted in the school of classical liberalism which had gained influence in another post-war era nearly two centuries earlier at the end of the decades-long conflicts of the French Revolution and Napoleon. Continue reading

Canary In The Coal Mine: The US Navy’s Dilemmas As An Indication Of A Culminating Point In National Grand Strategy

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 8, No. 4, April 2020

By Captain Robert C. Rubel USN (Ret)


June 20, 2000 – The U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln Battle Group and ships from Australia, Chile, Japan, Canada, and Korea steam alongside one another for a Carrier Battle Group Photo during RIMPAC 2000. US Navy.

From a resource point of view, the US Navy has not been doing well lately, its program to expand fleet size to 355 ships, a number that seems to be accepted by the Administration and Congress, has been suffering a series of setbacks.  Whether being raided for money to build a border wall, forced to fund the replacement ballistic missile submarine program or constricted due to the need to bolster current readiness, the Navy’s shipbuilding budget is under tremendous pressure, and Congress, despite a desire for a bigger fleet, has not increased the Navy’s top line sufficiently to accelerate ship construction.  Moreover, and perhaps worse, the Navy has been unable to produce a fleet structure assessment (FSA) that passes muster with the Secretary of Defense, who doubts the validity of a key assumption that underpins the study.[1]

Many, including a number of my colleagues, feel that the answer is a significantly increased Navy budget, as if the only problem is money.  While there is no doubt that a bigger budget would lubricate shipbuilding, it would not necessarily solve the bigger problem of fleet structure analysis and fleet design; how many of what kinds of ships should the Navy have in the future and the uses of each kind.  But more money does not seem to be in the cards, and correcting assumptions about the effectiveness of the Navy’s principal force generation process, the Optimized Fleet Response Plan (OFRP) does not bode well for what an adjusted FSA would reveal.  The Navy is facing a no-win situation, and to find a way out, we have to engage in a deeper strategic diagnosis of the problem. Continue reading

Defeating China: Five Strategies

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 8, No. 4, April 2020

By Anders Corr, Ph.D.

Fighter jets of the U.S. Navy Blue Angels demonstration squadron fly over the Lincoln Memorial during the Fourth of July Celebration ‘Salute to America’ event in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, July 4, 2019. Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Since 1989, when China massacred thousands of its own people in Tiananmen Square to stop a pro-democracy protest, the country has arguably grown into the world’s most powerful and centralized state. China’s GDP by purchasing power parity (PPP) is approximately $25.4 trillion, while the U.S. GDP PPP is only about $20.5 trillion.[1] One man, Chinese President Xi Jinping, has almost total control of China’s economy and a leadership position for life. China’s authoritarian system, most recently, allowed the COVID-19 virus to become a pandemic. By the time it is controlled, it may have killed up to millions of people.

Compared to Xi Jinping, political leaders in democracies have comparatively little economic power. U.S. President Donald Trump, for example, has only partial control of the smaller (by purchasing power parity when compared to China) U.S. economy, and must be reelected in 2020 to continue his tenure for a maximum of an additional four years.

China’s accelerating economy has fueled its military spending, which increased approximately three-fold since 2008 to $177.5 billion in 2019,[2] not including substantial programs hidden from public sight. Military and political analysts estimate that in the South China Sea and environs, China’s military capabilities already match or exceed those of the United States in many respects, as does China’s diplomatic influence. This puts pressure on the U.S. military to withdraw from the region, claimed as territory by Beijing. Over the next 30 years, China’s global military capabilities could exceed those of the United States, which would make it difficult for the U.S. to pose a credible threat against China’s already ongoing territorial expansion. Europe and Japan are similarly militarily weak when compared with their near competitors, Russia and China respectively. [3]

China’s actions are now indistinguishable from those that would serve a goal of China’s global rule in perpetuity. Hopes for engagement as a strategy to turn China into a democracy have now been dashed. Instead of us changing them, they are changing us through influencing our own political and economic leadership. There is a danger that as China ascends to the world’s most powerful nation, other nations will follow its lead through bandwagoning. The dual and increasing danger of bandwagoning and China’s influence means that a shift in strategy is needed.

Engagement should give way to a more aggressive strategy against China in order to defend freedom, democracy and human rights globally, and to incentivize allies and potential allies to declare themselves on the right side of the dispute before they enter the gravitational field of China’s economic influence.[4]

As argued below, this should include labeling China as not just a competitor, which would imply that all play by the same rules, but as an adversary or even an enemy. Strategies must be calibrated accordingly to defeat the country, and more specifically, its guiding organization, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

There are at least five interrelated and overlapping strategies required to defeat the CCP: 1) Defend, 2) Ally, 3) Contain, 4) Divide, and 5) Democratize. Many of these strategies are overlapping, and have been proposed previously by a range of authors, cited here. They are all underway to some extent in various countries, however they are not being implemented at the scale and intensity needed to win. That should change now, or we risk continued relative weakening against the enemy.

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Time To Bring Taiwan In From The Cold: Start Working Towards A Normalization Of Relations

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 8, No. 2, February 2020

By Gerrit van der Wees

Taiwan into the UN rally held in front of the PRC Mission to the UN in New York City, September 22, 2018. Photo: Gerrit van der Wees.

A recent episode in Prague illustrates in two important ways that China’s relations with the West are changing fast.  It shows the need for the US and Western Europe to reimagine relations with Taiwan, bring Taiwan in from the cold of political isolation, start working towards a normalization of relations, and find a rightful place for that democratic country in the international family of nations.

A Prague Spring in the offing?

First, consider that policymakers in the Czech Republic are increasingly pushing back against the way China has been attempting to isolate Taiwan internationally. Led by the new mayor of Prague Zdeněk Hřib, elected in November 2018, and his up-and-coming Pirate Party, the city last year broke off sister-city ties with Beijing – which had imposed unacceptable “One China” conditions on the arrangement – and established ties with Taiwan’s capital Taipei.

To be sure, at the national level, key policymakers like President Miloš Zeman and Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, both associated with the right of center business community, are still very much in Beijing’s pocket. But observers in Prague indicate that a new Prague Spring is in the offing. Continue reading

Plutocrats Are Only Part Of A Larger Problem

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 8, No. 2, February 2020

By William R. Hawkins

BEIJING, CHINA – MARCH 18: Apple CEO Tim Cook (R) attends China Development Forum 2017 – Economic Summit at Diaoyutai State Guesthouse on March 18, 2017 in Beijing, China. The forum sponsored by Development Research Center of the State Council centers on “China and the World: Economic Transformation through Structural Reforms”. Photo by Visual China Group via Getty Images.

I ran across a review of the Plutocratic Insurgency Reader in an unusual place. Not in the usual left media outlets, like Jacobin, Dissent or The New Republic as its title would seem to fit, but in Parameters, the quarterly journal of the U.S. Army War College (AWC). This is because the book is not edited by the usual “progessive” activists, but by Robert J. Bunker, adjunct research professor at the AWC Strategic Studies Institute and his wife, Pamela Ligouri Bunker, a specialist in counter-terrorism. And the book is published under the auspices of the Small Wars Journal (SWJ), not known for leaning left.

The book collects 31 short essays by 15 authors, six of whom have ties to either the AWC or the SWJ, thus giving a high expectation that national security would be its primary concern. Its self-avowed purpose is to present the core of a scholarly movement that originated in 2012 from correspondence between Robert Bunker and Nils Gilman of the Bergguen Institute concerning how the wealthy “opt out of participation in the collective institutions that make up society.” The Bergguen Institute was founded in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis and Gilman’s interest is apparently reshaping the relationship between globalized capitalism and national sovereignty. As one reads through the essays, there is a tension that undermines the national security side of the discussion in favor of a domestic policy focus on income inequality and a radical desire to transform property rights that leaves the welfare state in the dust. Gilman is not an editor, but I would argue, his is the stronger voice.

The Parameters book reviewer, José de Arimatéia da Cruz, is another AWC adjunct professor attracted by the insurgency part of the title. He argues, “The end of the Cold War and the ‘end of history’ have led to a more interconnected and globalized world in the twenty-first century. At the same time, the democratization of technology has created a new environment in which previously suppressed actors can exercise greater power via the internet in a dark, deviant globalization. When corrupt politicians join forces with plutocratic insurgents, nation-states pay the price because corruption threatens national and global security.”

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Scientific Publishers Disregard International Law

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 12, December 2019

By Clive Hamilton

Republic of China’s 11-dash line, which succeeded the 9-dash line in 1947. Secretariat of Government of Guangdong Province, Republic of China – Made by Territory Department of Ministry of the Interior, printed by Bureau of Surveying of Ministry of Defence. Now in Sun Yat-sen Library of Guangdong Province, People’s Republic of China. Source: Wikimedia

Why are prestigious scientific journals endorsing China’s illegitimate territorial claims?

Times Higher Education reports that journals including Cells, Diversity and Distributions, Molecular Ecology, New Phytologist and Plos One have published maps of China that incorporate the ‘nine-dash line’, hand-drawn on a map in 1947 that marked out China’s claim to virtually all of the South China Sea and the islands and reefs within it.

China’s assertion of jurisdiction within the nine-dash line—including the right to its rich resources and deployment of its navy and maritime militia to force other long-term users out of the sea—has raised military tensions and prompted a series of maritime disputes. Filipino fisherman can no longer trawl around Scarborough Shoal, which is within the Philippines exclusive economic zone. Vietnam has been forced to abandon oil exploration in its zone after pressure from Beijing.

When the Philippines challenged China’s claimed jurisdiction within the nine-dash line, an arbitral tribunal was constituted in The Hague under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. In July 2016, the tribunal delivered a ‘sweeping rebuke’ of China’s behaviour in the South China Sea. The tribunal ruled that there is ‘no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources within the sea areas falling within the “nine-dash line”.’

Yet prestigious scientific journals are disregarding international law and legitimizing China’s claim by publishing maps showing everything within the nine-dash line as belonging to China. This legitimization process is subtle propaganda, part of Beijing’s campaign to slowly and invisibly induce the world to accept its claim.

The maps occur in articles that have no bearing at all on the South China Sea, such as ones covering the distribution of butterflies, trees and grasses in China, and are included solely as political statements.

The insertion of the nine-dash line in an article in Palgrave Communications, owned by Springer Nature, was gratuitous because its subject is the development of agriculture in China since ancient times. As if anticipating objections, the paper carries a ‘publisher’s note’ at the end. It reads: ‘Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.’ Continue reading

The Legitimacy of U.S. “Intervention” in Hong Kong and East Turkistan

By William R. Hawkins

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 12, December 2019

This photo taken on May 31, 2019 shows a watchtower on a high-security facility near what is believed to be a re-education camp where mostly Muslim ethnic minorities are detained, on the outskirts of Hotan, in China’s northwestern Xinjiang region. As many as one million ethnic Uighurs and other mostly Muslim minorities are believed to be held in a network of internment camps in Xinjiang, but China has not given any figures and describes the facilities as “vocational education centres” aimed at steering people away from extremism. (Photo by GREG BAKER / AFP via Getty Images)

On the surface, the Hong Kong Democracy and Human Rights Act and the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act seem similar. Both condemn oppression in the People’s Republic of China and declare that American values of human rights, democracy and religious freedom are the proper norms on which Beijing’s actions will be evaluated. Violation of these standards will bring sanctions against those held responsible and could affect how the broader relations between the PRC and the U.S. will be conducted going forward.

The situations in the Hong Kong Special Autonomous Region and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (East Turkistan) are different as are particular measures in the two bills. The legislative efforts are, however, united in a common concern seen on both sides of the aisle. Americans cannot look askance from what happens in China without betraying their own values.

The U.S. interest in Hong Kong’s autonomy, prosperity and liberty (all seen as interconnected) goes back to the United States-Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992 which states “Support for democratization is a fundamental principle of United States foreign policy.” The British turned Hong Kong back to China in 1997 after governing the city since 1847. Though Hong Kong was not a democracy, it became one of the great cities of the world due to the culture of freedom and Western values conveyed by the British. In 1984, when London and Beijing negotiated Hong Kong’s future, the Chinese pledged that “The current social and economic systems in Hong Kong will remain unchanged, and so will the life-style” for 50 years. The British hoped that in another half century, the Communist regime would reform itself in positive ways, even perhaps out of existence. Unfortunately, as Hong Kong nears the half-way point of this special status, Beijing seems more of a threat than ever before. Under the arguably megalomaniac General Secretary Xi Jinping whose “China Dream” is to wield dominant global power by 2049 (the centennial of the Communist takeover), the “one country, two systems” balance will end with the rule of just one system, communism. Continue reading

War In The Taiwan Strait Is Not Unthinkable: Some Will Lose More Than Others

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 11, November 2019

By Grant Newsham

Screen capture of Chinese state media video of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops training for an assault on Taiwan’s presidential office. Pictured is a mock building at the Zhurihe military base in China, that mimics the actual building in Taipei. The video aired July 5, 2015. CCTV via Apple Daily.

Whether anyone actually ‘wins’ a war is a philosophical debate.  The Germans and Japanese in 1945 might have thought wars do indeed have winners.  But perhaps it’s better said that in most conflicts some parties ‘lose more than others.’

Such would be the case if Beijing attempted to militarily subjugate Taiwan.  And Xi Jinping just might do so.  He declared in a January 2019 speech that “we (China) do not promise to renounce the use of force and reserve the option to use all necessary measures (to take Taiwan.)”[1]

The Battle for Taiwan would have truly global consequences, akin to the invasion of Poland by the Soviets and Germans in 1939.

However, much of the debate over a Taiwan Strait conflict focuses on preparation for and conduct of the PRC’s attack: whether Beijing will or won’t attack, what an attack might look like and Taiwan’s ability to defend itself, whether the US will or should get involved and whether it ought to sell Taiwan ‘this or that’ weapon.  Such discussion is useful, but the actual consequences and longer-term ripple effects of a fight over Taiwan deserve much more attention.[2]

This paper examines key aspects of what happens once the shooting starts, and the follow-on global economic and political effects.  The envisioned scenario is a full-scale PLA assault against Taiwan, but it’s worth noting that even a ‘limited’ assault–such as against one of Taiwan’s offshore islands–may not stay limited for very long: given Beijing’s oft-stated determination to take all of Taiwan, an off-shore island assault would only constitute a tactical objective in the march on Taipei, and would also have serious and wide-ranging political and economic consequences.

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China and the War of Shipyards and Factories

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 10, October 2019

By William R. Hawkins

Chinese aircraft carrier group, including J-15 fighters and helicopters, trains in the South China Sea in late December, 2016. Visual China Group via Getty Images.

Satellite images show that China is making rapid progress in building its new Type 02 aircraft carrier at the Jiangnan Shipyard in Shanghai. The Type 02 is a larger design than Beijing’s first two carriers which were based on Soviet-era light carriers of about 67,000 tons and which lacked catapults for launching first-rate fighters. They used “ski jumps” to put planes into the air, limiting them to the small, short-range J-15 “Flying Shark” fighter-bombers. The Russian-built/China modified Type 01 can only carry 24 of these warbirds, though the China-built 01A, which is about to deploy, may be able to carry a few more. The Type 02 is a much larger design more in line with American carriers. At an estimated 80,000+ tons, it will be able to carry 40+ fighters as well as supporting aircraft such as early warning and control planes. In comparison, the typical U.S. Navy carrier has 60+ fighters along with other support aircraft. They are also nuclear-powered which the Chinese carriers are not. This does not mean, however, that American naval-air superiority is assured. Continue reading